Revealing a rich prehistoric landscape at Biddenham

One of the most significant discoveries the team made was circular ditch monument.

Excavations by Albion Archaeology in Biddenham, Bedfordshire, have uncovered more of the elaborate prehistoric landscape that defines this particular meander of the Great Ouse river.

A previous project by Albion, which ran for an impressive ten years (2006-2016) and covered an area of 72ha, found a high concentration of prehistoric features in this loop of the waterway, suggesting that it may have been an area of significant ritual activity from the Neolithic through to the Iron Age (see CA 315). Finds during that project included at least four Neolithic oval and circular enclosures, with several Bronze Age ring ditches aligned with them.

This most recent work at Biddenham covered another 4.8ha of the river meander, and has added even more detail about how this landscape was used in the past. Geophysical surveying and trial trenching a few years ago revealed that there were likely to be further prehistoric remains here, but the extent of the features was not fully revealed until the recent excavations, which were carried out over the past eight months by Albion, in conjunction with RPS Consulting Services and in advance of development of the site by Dandara.

IMAGE: Albion Archaeology.

One of the most significant discoveries the team made was another circular ditch monument (above). Measuring c.30m in diameter, it has a clear entrance that appears to be original to its construction, and contained cremated human remains. Few small finds were recovered, making the phasing of the monument hard to determine without further analysis and radiocarbon dating, but the team believes it is likely to date to the Neolithic or early Bronze Age.

This monument appears to have remained a feature in the landscape for several centuries at least. As with the other circular monuments previously discovered nearby – the closest of which is approximately 900m to the south – adjacent middle-to-late Bronze Age linear boundaries and enclosures appear to have been constructed in alignment with the monument.

Use of the site did not end here, however. After a small hiatus, the area appears to have been used for a middle-to-late Iron Age settlement. A number of pits, probably used to store grain, were discovered, as well as at least one roundhouse and some potential cooking pits. Numerous finds associated with domestic activity during this period were identified, too.

Then, after another hiatus, late Anglo-Saxon activity left its trace, including a sunken-featured building, oven, and two post-built structures. These finds were completely unexpected as their relatively ephemeral footprint did not show up on the geophysical survey. The team believes that these features may be from the edge of a settlement, which is most likely under the centre of the modern village to the south-east.

Commenting on the project, Iain Leslie from Albion Archaeology said: ‘The investigations have revealed a wealth of information about the previous inhabitants of the area, stretching back as much as 6,000 years. The remains offer a fantastic addition to our knowledge of Neolithic/early Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Anglo-Saxon settlement in the area, and will contribute significantly to our understanding of how the local landscape was inhabited during these periods.

Excavations at the site are continuing on a further 1.2ha, and additional evidence of the Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon settlements are expected to be found. After digging is completed, the team will turn to post-excavation analysis, which it is hoped will be able to date these newly discovered features more specifically and help place them in the larger ritualistic landscape that seems to have defined this area during prehistory.